A Day in Delft
I don’t have to guess that the favorite fruit of the Dutch is apple. It’s everywhere ”“ not fresh, as in the fruit itself, but in tarts and pastries, most especially in appelflaps, turnovers with crusts so thin they shatter wildly upon first bite. Apples are also found in the traditional Dutch apple pie, which has a strudel topping instead of a doughy top crust. I can get an apple pie in any bakkerij (bakery) but I want to try the best there is: the one that’s served in Dudok.
Dudok is what’s known as a grand café, a restaurant that opens early and closes late. Most other eateries are open only from 10 am ”“ 6 pm. Dudok is divided into two: a restaurant serving a wide choice of Mediterranean food, and a patisserie, where their well-known pastries, muffins, quiche, and of course that apple pie are picked up to go. Dudok’s apple pie is so famous in and around Rotterdam that other restaurants proudly include it on their own menus, at a much higher price of course. It retails at only Ñ”1.70 at Dudok, but in other places it can be sold as high as Ñ”4.00!
It’s a nice sunny day when I find my way to Dudok. It’s 2:30 pm and several Dutch are taking their koffie break and sucking on cigarettes. The black wooden tables are chipped in some areas, as are the wooden chairs, but it adds a homey, convivial character ”“ what the Dutch call gezelligheid to the place. The restaurant used to be a warehouse, which accounts for its high-rise ceilings. Large, slatted glass windows afford a view of the kitchen, and above it is the mezzanine that looks out over the Rotte River.
I order a slice of apple pie “…slagroom?” (whipped cream), the waiter asks, and my now familiar koffie verkeerd (café latte). With the anticipation that comes with something so famous, I’m almost disappointed when the apple pie arrives looking like … an ordinary apple pie. Whether I’m expecting something towering or flamboyant in appearance, I don’t quite know. Almost ordinary, the pie consists of thick apple chunks tightly packed onto a thin butter crust. A slight cinnamon mixture is swirled throughout the pie which is topped with a drizzle of fine strudel (a mixture of flour, butter, sugar, and cinnamon.)
It’s good. Very good. Baking has softened the apples, their juice perfuming the crust with their essence. The cinnamon strikes a sweet-spicy note and there’s just a hint of raisins. Licks of whipped cream serve to refresh my palate in between apple bites. It’s the simplest things like these that are made well that beat their more ostentatious counterparts. Washed down with coffee, I delightedly feel like the tourist that I am, letting go and giving in to new and delicious things.
Meent 88, Centrum, Rotterdam, Netherlands
The first time a Dutch pancake is served to me, I almost call the waiter back telling him that he’s mistakenly given me a crepe and not a pancake. But Dutch pancakes are just that, thin and crepe-like and wide as wagon wheels ”“ almost 10 inches across. These pancakes aren’t as fluffy as their American counterpart, but they’re substantial and quite chewy. Dutch pancakes are traditionally served with poedersuiker (powdered sugar), stroop (a sugar-syrup similar to treacle), and of course, lashes of butter. There are savory variations too, but of course I go for the sweet types (in food as in life).
At this Pannenkoeken, Dutch pancake house, of which there are several scattered across the Netherlands, I watch as the pancake master butters a wide cast iron pan. To make our requested apple-strawberry pancake, he first cooks the apple slices until they’re soft. Putting them aside on a plate, he then uses a giant scoop to ladle out the pancake batter. Completely covering the pan, it takes a mere three minutes before the master flips the pancake over in one fell swoop, (a move that takes a thousand pancakes to master, I tell you). Then he takes the cooked apples and presses them gently into the batter.
healthy sprinkle of sweetness
When cooked, the pancake is slid onto a plate, chopped strawberries distributed over the top, and then given a shower of powdered sugar followed by a slap of butter. There’s a cinnamon tang to this pancake offset by the juiciness of the berries.
Halfway through our pancake, I ask for a small order of the poffertjes, small, thick pancakes about an inch in diameter. A furnace with 200 small hollows on the top plate is used to cook these miniature brothers of the pancake. The same batter is used, except that the procedure is quite different.
The batter is ladled into the small hollows, with the excess batter being scraped off with a metal turner. After a few minutes, the pancakes are swiftly flipped over with a long-handled fork. When cooked, they’re plated and then given the same powdered-sugar-sprinkle treatment. Much doughier in texture but still as good, these little ones are a treat.